Recent Commonplace Entries


“All healthy societies rest on the widespread acceptance of a dense web of reciprocal obligations among citizens. Underpinning this is a recognition of shared identity built through social interaction, common endeavours, shared history and shared future, since this generates a presumption of fellow feeling. Psychologically, this is what citizenship of a healthy society means.” (Paul Collier, in the Spectator February 23)

“Fish were born to fly, yet everywhere they swim.” (Alexander Herzen, according to Henry Hardy in In Search of Isaiah Berlin, p 107)

“By the end of August 1940, a Soviet Latvian Constitution had been promulgated, giving birth to the Latvian People’s Commissariat of State Security, ensuring powers for NKVD commissars. Directions on procedures were signed on 28 November 1940 in the city of Kaunas by the Lithuanian NKVD, and were in line with those issued by Moscow to their Latvian and Estonian counterparts.”

“The circular read in part . . . .

For the task of operative work, it is of profound importance to know how many former policemen, White Guardists, ex-army officers, members of anti-Soviet political parties and organisations are in the territory of Lithuania and where this element is concentrated. This is necessary in order to define the counter-revolutionary force and to direct our apparatus of active agencies for their annihilation and liquidation.

Executing the Order of the People’s Commissariat of NKVD of USSR, No. 001223, referring to a report on the anti-Soviet element, and the demand to be most careful in the exact execution of the task, I issue the following order:

Into the alphabetic files must be entered all those persons who, because of their social and political past, their nationalist-chauvinistic inclinations, religious beliefs, moral and political instability, are hostile to the socialistic form of State, and consequently might be exploited by foreign intelligence services and counter-revolutionary centres for their anti-Soviet purpose.

Among such elements are to be counted:

  1. All former members of anti-Soviet political parties, organisations and groups: Trotskyites, right-wingers, Mensheviks, Social Democrats, anarchists etc.
  2. All former members of nationalistic, chauvinistic, anti-Soviet parties, Nationalists, Christian Democrats, the active members of student fraternities, of the National Guard etc.
  3. Former policemen, officers of the criminal and political police and of prisons . . .” (from Stalin’s Secret War by Rupert Butler, pp 35-36)

On Magyars

  1. “There’s no such thing as a Hungarian race or ethnicity. Just a Hungarian language.” (Rev. Gabor Ivanyi, quoted in NYT, March 16)
  2. “MIERNIK: As soon as I say you are beautiful, you mention Nigel.

BENTLEY: That is the Hungarian part of me. Subtle.”

(from Charles McCarry’s The Miernik Dossier, p 41)

“‘Aren’t you supposed to be the gentlemen who lie for the good of their country?’

‘That’s diplomats. We’re not gentlemen.’

‘So you lie to save your hides.’

‘That’s politicians. Different game entirely.’”

(from John le Carré’s Our Kind of Traitor, Chapter 7)

“The journalist Auberon Waugh, in whose time-capsule of a flat I briefly lived in 2000, once summed up what he took to be the primary motivations for writing books. ‘With women, there is this tremendous desire to expose themselves. With men, it is more often an obscure form of revenge.’” (Thomas W. Hodgson, in the Spectator, March 2)

“Academics are the only people I can think of for whom this sentence makes sense: ‘I’m hoping to get some time off so that I can get some work done.’” (Sidney Verba, scholar of democracies, from his NYT obituary, March 18)

On The Satanic Verses and Islamicists

“My position was that there is no law in life or nature that says great religions may be insulted with impunity.” (John le Carré, quoted by Hanif Kureishi in TLS, March 1)

“In a civilized world we all have a moral obligation to apply a modicum of censorship to our own work in order to reinforce this principle of free speech.” (Roald Dahl, in letter to the Times, quoted by Hanif Kureishi in TLS, March 1)

“The message of the Enlightenment is that we have some choice over who we want to be, making our own destiny as individuals, without submitting to gods, revelation or ancestors. The basis of this is a liberal education and a democracy of ideas. These are not British values – over which Europeans have no monopoly – but universal ones.” (Hanif Kureishi in TLS, March 1)

“Notions of criticism, free-ranging thought, and questioning are universal values which benefit the relatively powerless in particular. If we gave way on any of these, even for a moment, we’d leave ourselves without a culture, and with no hope.” (Hanif Kureishi in TLS, March 1)

“Was there is [sic] a single human civilization, if unequally developed in different parts of the world? Or are human cultures radically different, yet all (perhaps equally) valuable? The views of Picasso and the Surrealists were also acknowledged: primitive art conveyed spiritual insights that had been lost in the West. These messages fitted in with different justifications of colonialism. In the interwar years the ideal of civilizing a world of savages, France’s mission civilisatrice, was challenged by those who urged an appreciation of difference and a respect for local traditions.” (Adam Cooper, in TLS, March 8)

“Monty asked him what rank he had been during the war, and when Rose said he was a subaltern Monty relied, ‘I was a Field Marshal. I don’t suppose we ever met.’” (A. N. Wilson, quoting from Kenneth Rose’s journals, in the TLS, March 15)

Courting Habits of Our Supreme Court Justices (No. 23 in a series)

“ . . . she invites him home, but he fails the audition at the Lazy B, when he flinches at her father’s offer of a bull’s testicle grilled on a branding fire.” (on the future Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist’s unsuccessful wooing of Sandra Day O’Connor, as cited by Jeffrey Toobin in his review of First, by Evan Thomas, NYT, March 24)

“MIERNIK: No, it’s important that the ugly, the miserable believe that the beautiful are serene.

BENTLEY: What an idea. The Edwardians thought that nothing gave the poor greater pleasure than the sight of a rich man. That’s an odd viewpoint for a modern Communist.” (from Charles McCarry’s The Miernik Dossier, p 42)

“But so long as the EU remains in its present form – without the possibility of differential legal tiers of membership for non-euro members that do not wish to pursue ever-closer union – the question of whether it is better for Britain to be outside the EU with more sovereignty at the cost of weaker economic relations, or inside it with opt-outs and weak political influence, will not go away. Perpetual engagement with the unresolvable European question and what it means for political order in these islands is a historical burden Britain must learn to accept, possibly forever.” (Professor Helen Thompson, in History Today, March)

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